NASA is experiencing 3D-printing in microgravity




Made in Space

The infamous tool kit NASA, which was lost in space in November 2008, being lost on the International Space Station, has left the team for a grease gun is smaller and the inability to replace the missing tools. A few years later the astronauts will be able to replenish lost or damaged astronauts tools by simply typing in the new 3D-printer.

NASA will test the possibility of 3D-printing in limited microgravity in early June , when the printer will send the size of a microwave oven on the ISS for a series of experiments on the production of plastic and composite parts and tools. If all goes well, the space agency will establish a permanent printer to the ISS in 2015.

In the near future this machine will allow the ISS crew to duplicate the little things and important things – for example, plastic clips for securing cargo – instead of waiting for procurers to the next mission. In addition, in the future Space Agency expects that day, when the raw material can be extracted from the asteroid and deliver to the ISS with the space shuttle. The possibility of re-stocking away from Earth will give our space assets possibility longer be in space, to fly in deep space, realizing the unrealistic plans of the past . Free space can be filled with food, fuel and other useful ingredients space ship.
Trial Run

To begin the astronauts will install a test 3D-printer created by a company called Made in Space – in a microgravity science glovebox on the ISS (Microgravity Science Glovebox), a closed-liter 255 jobs located in the laboratory module of the European Space Agency. ESA has developed this job to terrestrial scientists from different fields could conduct experiments in space, leaning on his shoulder through the members of the ISS crew. Working space is sealed and keeps a negative pressure to the crew could manipulate the experimental equipment and samples without fear of losing small parts, parts, fluids or gases that may escape at the open laboratory module.

Printer from Made in Space constructs objects of thermoplastic fibers by heating and applying them through the extrusion head in accordance with CAD-up file. This printing technique – often used for rapid prototyping of the inventors of its parts – creating things from the bottom up, causing material layer thickness of 0.04 mm. Read more about the history of the 3D-printer , we wrote here .

3D-printers typically are designed to use the force of gravity and surface tension, which will help to form layers without air bubbles and defects which weaken the finished product.

“In microgravity all components 3D-printer will begin to swim around and shift even for a fraction of a millimeter can ruin the entire print” – says chief technology Made in Space Jason Dunn. Without going into the details – for reasons having competitors – Dunn said that his company has developed the first 3D-printer that is fully independent of gravity.

The lack of gravity means that the atmosphere is not intended ICS natural convection. This poses a challenge for thermal management, which occupies a central place in the 3D-printing. For the space of 3D-printers will have to develop other thermal methods that leave the cold cold and hot hot.

Experimental printer took a series of tests for vibration and stress, which will determine whether he can survive the launch and operation mode of microgravity.

During the test the printer from the ISS Made in Space will build a variety of objects, including layout tools and parts used on the space station.

“The main goal of this project is to discover not only how the printer reacts to prolonged exposure to microgravity, but also determining whether the materials are changed in such conditions,” – said Mike Snyder, co-founder of Made in Space, and the chief engineer and director of Research and Development.

Limits on power station

3D-printers based on extrusion usually produce temperatures up to 200 degrees Celsius to soften thermopolymer thread. This is not a great power, but the printer may require additional energy to maintain the temperature in the chamber construction – it saves objects from deformation or runoff. If the camera does not heat the building, there is another option – heated platform that the lower layer does not cool down too quickly.

3D-printers higher class require a lot of heat, and often come with a power-hungry laser to liquefy polymers and build denser and more durable plastic objects. Extrusion systems create products of lower quality because the softened polymer is passed through a hole in the manner of a tube of toothpaste. Installation of lasers on the ISS will most likely not feasible because of the enormous energy consumption, says Joseph Beeman, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas. Approximately the same extent 3D-printers save material in the same portion are voracious for energy.

Although the engineers say that they can not go into the details of power consumption, the necessary printer company, they indicate that the devices operating in the scientific unit of ISS is limited to 200 watts. Machine Made in Space «nominally” works within the framework of this requirement.

NASA interest in 3D-print looks absolutely justified and extrusion system Made in Space looks rational, given the size and power limitations associated with the ISS.
Next Steps

The output space of 3D-printers to more industrial levels would allow to replace the more complex elements of the orbiting station. Three-dimensional printers that have built objects made of titanium and other metal powders, ideally, would be able to create change critical components of the space station, but even more will suffer from the conditions of microgravity.

“You do not want these powders were flying around, but in theory it is possible to use electrostatic system to keep the non-conductive powders at the bottom of the working chamber,” – says Beeman. And he adds: “I think, 3D-printing on the ISS will work. The question is, how useful it would be, but definitely worth a try. ”

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Tags: 3D-printing , NASA , ISS .


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